To beat Morales, Pacquiao must heed other bouts

Updated: March 17, 2005, 1:38 PM ET
By Steve Kim |

In November of 2003, Manny Pacquiao would shock the boxing world with his thorough domination of Marco Antonio Barrera in San Antonio, Texas, stopping the highly regarded Mexican in 11 rounds. Six months later, in May of 2004, he would score a highly disputed draw against the widely respected – and dodged – Juan Manuel Marquez in Las Vegas.

This Saturday night at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Pacquiao will take on Erik Morales to complete his trilogy against the "Three Mexican Musketeers" of the featherweight division, who have run roughshod over the featherweight and junior lightweight divisions in the past few years.

Outlining the strategy of the 'Pac-Man' through it all has been his trainer, Freddie Roach, who has overseen Pacquiao's career since he burst onto the American scene with his dismantling of Lehlo Ledwaba for the IBF junior featherweight title in 2001.

When he signed on the dotted line to face Barrera, he would give up that belt to face the recognized featherweight world champion.

And their strategy was very simple: Don't give Barrera even a second to remember the Alamo.

"We wanted to make Barrera work every minute of every round, and fight a fast pace because Barrera, he's not old in age but he's had a lot of wars, had a lot of fights," said Roach last week at his Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood, Calif. "We wanted to break down the body early and it worked very well; it was a great strategy for that fight."

After suffering a dubious knockdown in the opening seconds of the bout, the Filipino whirlwind would take full control of the bout by flooring Barrera with a sharp left in the third stanza. The body language and the look on Barrera's face said it all – this was going to be a long night, against a younger, hungrier, more passionate fighter, that reminded Barrera of himself at an earlier stage of his own career.

For the next eight frames, he would shellack Barrera with a two-fisted attack that was unwavering. Barrera wasn't so much fighting as much as he was employing self-defense from the onslaught. He must have known how Davy Crockett felt.

In facing Marquez, Team Pacquiao had a much more difficult style to contend with, one that would rely on patience and guile against the master counterpuncher. And Marquez did have his way boxing from the outside in the first half of round one at the MGM Grand, until Pacquiao put on a blitz worthy of Lawrence Taylor.

Bang! A counter left would floor Marquez. Boom! Another left would send the classy Mexican to the canvas in stunning fashion. Pow! Finally, a barrage of incoming leather would send Marquez to the floor helplessly, nearly out, for the third time. Somehow, a game Marquez would survive the opening round and box his way back into the fight.

"We planned on using more feints and boxing a lil' bit more in that fight," explained Roach, who thinks that his fighter's early success actually had a detrimental effect on their overall fight plan. "Manny had so much success early with that left hand and he got stuck in that mode and he fought a poor fight that night."

Many ringside observers felt that after their 12 rounds, that Marquez had won the large majority of the remaining 11 rounds and had done enough to win the fight, which ended up in a draw.

"He didn't fight his best fight whatsoever," Roach admitted. "I think the quick start really hurt us in the long run, even though Marquez is a much more technical fighter than Barrera was, he's only looked good in one fight in his life because Manny made him look good. I mean the guy's a very boring fighter, but he's very effective."

The trainer thinks his charge became a one-trick pony against Marquez, with his overreliance on his left cross.

"Definitely, he just got stuck in that mode, had success with it and then he kept trying the same thing over and over again," said Roach. "Marquez figured it out; he's a smart fighter, he made some adjustments in the fight and good fighters make adjustments like that and turn things around, which he did in that fight."

Against Morales, Roach would like to employ more of the full-court press and quicken the tempo.

"No doubt about that, the same as Barrera. He's a similar guy, has a lot of tough fights under his belt and I think we're the younger, faster guy and we're going to press the issue every round. But we're going to do it in a more intelligent way then he did in the Marquez fight, though."

And it's clear that Roach would like to see Morales be put into his reverse gear.

Roach would also like his boxer to employ his right hook, which is oftentimes a very difficult punch for orthodox fighters to handle against southpaws. Publicist Fred Sternburg has dubbed this punch 'Manila Ice'.

"Most of the tapes I've seen on him, he's very effective when you let him come forward and he's not so effective when you back him up," explained Roach, whose words are backed up with Barrera's winning performance against Morales in November. Whomever was coming forward and dictating the tempo controlled that bout. For much of that night, that was Barrera, who would win a well-earned split decision. "That's how Barrera beat him in that last fight, so we are going to back this guy up and put some pressure on him.

"But we're going to use speed with that and maybe side-to-side movement a lil' bit more than we did in the Marquez fight. We're just not going to walk him down," continued Roach, who would also like his boxer to employ his right hook, which is oftentimes a very difficult punch for orthodox fighters to handle against southpaws. Publicist Fred Sternburg has dubbed this punch 'Manila Ice'.

This highly anticipated matchup is considered almost an even fight, with pundits split down the middle on who they think will come out victorious. But regardless, to have faced Barrera, Marquez and Morales in less than two years (within a span of just four fights) is one of the more remarkable and daunting tasks any prizefighter has taken on in recent memory.

But Roach – who has sparred verbally in the past with Pacquiao's promoter Murad Muhammad – wouldn't have necessarily gone down this road.

"If I was in charge, I would've went in a different direction," he says. "There's fights that I would've fought in between, y'know, Johnny Tapia, Oscar Larios and stuff like that. Just stay more active, not fight every killer on the block.

"But Murad Muhammad is interested in making money and I don't think he cares for Manny."

A glove story

Another thing that irks Roach is that Muhammad might have signed his fighter into boxing on Saturday night without his preferred Cleto Reyes gloves.

"We're fighting over the gloves right now; they want 'Winning', we want 'Reyes'. The thing is, now I hear Murad signed a contract with us fighting in 'Winning'. I mean, he didn't stick up for his fighter," said an exasperated Roach.

'Winning', a Japanese brand, is the favored brand of Morales.

"So lil' things like that make a big difference in a fight," Roach stated. "Especially to me, so we're fighting to fight with 'Reyes', but the thing is we're not going to make a huge issue out of it but the commission did tell us we could wear 'Reyes' and he could wear 'Winning'. But they don't want us to wear 'Reyes', just lil' things like that really (anger me) because you're supposed to be looking out for your fighter.

"I think Arum's looking out for his fighter and that's all there is to it. Murad's just going along for the ride."

In the past, during big fights, commissions have balked at having boxers use different brands of gloves, which never made sense since not every baseball player is obligated to just swinging a Louisville Slugger, and not every basketball player has to wear Nikes.

"Here's some irony for you," said Marc Ratner, the executive director the Nevada State Athletic Commission, which will be regulating Pacquiao-Morales. "At our last commission meeting, we have now voted to let the participants wear the known brands. We're going to actually pick out the brands next week which will be approved."

They will most likely consist of Everlast, Grant, Winning, and Reyes.

So Roach and his fighter are in the clear, right? Well, Ratner did mention there was a caveat to all this. A fighter can choose his preferred glove, "unless there's something in the contract."

Roach says that they have purchased a pair of eight-ounce 'Winning' gloves and have begun to work with them in anticipation of having to use them on Saturday night. The pair cost $175. "Hey, they're not cheap," mentioned Roach.

But is there that big of a difference between the different gloves?

"Yeah," answered Roach quickly. "There is a difference because of the padding. The puncher's glove is 'Reyes', no doubt. Any puncher in the world wants 'Reyes', any guy that's scared wants to fight in something else."

Solid footing

Don't look for Pacquiao to complain about blisters on his feet as he did after the Marquez fight.

"Well, he did buy a pair of cheap socks and they were very thin and he did have huge blisters on his feet. And the way he moves, it really affected his fight," explained Roach. "People might say it's a bad excuse, but I mean they were really, really big blisters."

But believe or not, it did have a financial benefit for Pacquiao.

"He ended up getting a sock deal in the Philippines," said Roach, chuckling at the thought. "So there are socks with Manny's picture on it. I bought 10 pairs of them, they're nice socks. They're very thick and it shouldn't be a problem this time and we did come up with a new shoe that PONY designed for us."

What did Yogi Berra say?

It's not over, till it's over. And in boxing, even when it's over, it's still not over.

This would apply to the surprising announcement that came last week that Arturo Gatti would be facing Floyd Mayweather Jr. after all, but instead of June 11th, they'll hook up two weeks later in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

"I'm not surprised at all," said Bob Arum, who promotes Mayweather. "In effect, our strategy was such, that this was inevitable since without this they would've had to go to a purse bid," he points out, reminding everyone that Mayweather was the top-ranked contender for Gatti's WBC junior welterweight title.

"And if they went to a purse bid, it was devastating. So I think Jose Sulaiman really played a great role in this happening. Because he said, 'Hey, you don't have to make a deal. You're going to have to go to a purse bid.' I think everyone realized that was to be avoided and I always suspected that at the end of the day, Gatti didn't want to give up his title."

Now, say what you will about the sanctioning bodies, but without the WBC and their regulations (which they sometimes make up as they go along), this bout doesn't take place when it does.

Believe it or not, these organizations are a necessary evil in the game.

So while Mayweather gets the fight he wants, Gatti gets the time he wants in preparing for it.

"We sat down and thought about what Arturo had said about the training problems and everybody respected that he was right," said Kathy Duva, of Main Events, which handles Gatti. "He needed whatever time he felt he needed. I think that when push came to shove and we let him know that this is really gone, this is it. I think there was a great disappointment in this fight not happening.

"So we decided to all get into a room at one time and try and figure it out and with great flexibility on everybody's part, we managed to move a few mountains around and we came up with a date that works for everybody."

The Main Events brass had a meeting scheduled for last Thursday afternoon to discuss possible opponents for Gatti on the June 11th date.

"HBO really had no idea we were going to bring this up when we got there," said Gatti's manager, Pat Lynch, just a few hours after the deal was consummated on late Thursday afternoon. "We actually talked about it early this morning, Kathy, Carl (Moretti), Pat (English) and then I got in touch with Arturo and we got in touch with Bally's to find out if the building was available June 25th and it was. We counted out the weeks, realized that the timing would work if there was a way we could flip-flop everything and once we told him we had a shot at moving this date, he said, 'Please, Pat, go make this fight.'"

Burstein vs. Golden Boy

I tell ya, the way attorney Judd Burstein is battling Golden Boy Promotions, I say it'll be about a year before he starts working for Richard Schaeffer and De La Hoya.

But in all seriousness, he does have a point, as there is an inherent conflict of interest in a fighter/promoter asking for options on their prospective opponents, like Bernard Hopkins is in a proposed bout against Jermain Taylor.

Yes, promoters ask for options all the time, it's an accepted – if uncomfortable part of this business – but when Don King gets options on an opponent, he's not the one doing the fighting. The fighters themselves never directly benefit from the options clause, unless of course they are the promoters, too.

Final flurries

Is Laila Ali the female version of Butterbean? Isn't it time for her to have a real fight?.… By the way, is this whole steroids thing a 'bean ball' or 'black eye' for baseball?… I'm expecting the name of Mazzan Ali to surface any day now… Speaking of Burstein, soon after he got Hasim Rahman to agree to terms for a Vitali Klitschko fight (which has now been postponed with an injury to Dr. KO), 50 Cent and 'The Game' made up soon afterwards. This guy is good… My Final Four: Illinois, UCONN, Oklahoma State and Wake Forest.